Focus on Fostoria - Apr_27_03

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When Bill Parsons had `em square dancing
From Fostoria Focus Sunday April 27, 2003
Article by Leonard Skonecki
     In 1933, Bill Parsons got a Christmas present -- a good one.  "My Aunt Contie came up from Columbus," Bill said. "She brought my brother a guitar and me a harmonic.  We fooled around and learned to play by ear."
    The Parsons boys got pretty good.  They performed at Pemberville High School
    After graduation in 1935, a friend asked a favor.
    "She asked if we would play for her dad in his bar, maybe get a crowd.  We did fifty cents a night is what we got," Bill said.
        "Before World War ll, there was a lot of square dancing.  I went to square dances and in process of dancing I learned to call."
    Bill made up his own calls.
    "I worked on the railroad, I'd tamp ties and think now this will fit this title and this title.  I did a lot of them"
    One Sunday, a relative heard the boys playing at home and said, " Hey, why don't you come to Woodville Saturday night? We got a square dance calling contest and a fiddler contest going."
    Bill never called before and audience, but he agreed.
    "I thought, 'Okay'  I called Red River Valley because that was one I knew really well.  There were three other callers and I won," he said.
    Bill then set his sights higher.  "I thought if I could do that why don't I get a band," he said.  " I could go out and make myself some money."
    Soon, he had Buss and Charlie Thaxton, Carl Russell, Lloyd Wettles and a Blue Ridge Mountain Virginia boy named Slim Kits.
    The called themselves, the Red Star Cowboys, a name they pulled out of a hat.   Then Bill went down to Johnny and Lee's on South Main (The Rail) and offered to play for free to prove themselves.
    "That's what we did.  We had a pretty good crowd," he said."  Then we went t Carey to play at the Moose Club Saturday nights, round and square dance.  Filled the hall up"
    Kits was a trick fiddle player. 
    "We played at the State Theater once.  He fiddled under his knee, over his back, over his head and under his chin,"  Bill Said. "He could really go."
    Bill called and played harmonica . . . or harmonicas.
    "My harmonicas were in different keys,  I had a cigar box and I brought all these harmonicas.  Every time we played a tune, I'd have to get the right harmonica," he said
    "Once we became known, we started to go all over.  We went every Thursday night to Alpha Night Club in Lima.  We filled that hall,"  Bill said.  "We had square and round dancing -- you played a waltz or a fox trot.
    The Red Star Cowboys were a hit until World War ll.  Bill joined the Army in March 1942.
    "I carried my Harmonica with me about every place I went.  This other guy had a mandolin." he said "When we were in training, we'd play and the guys would stand around and sing and holler."
    When the war was over, Bill hitchhiked home from Fort Knox on a Friday night.  He knew the Moose Hall has a square dance.
    "When I walked in the door in my uniform, everybody hollered at me.  They wanted me to call a square dance," he said.  "I hadn't called one in so long my voice might not do it,  but I called 'rubber Dolly.'  That tickled everybody."
    Square dancing was still popular.
    "After the war, the were square dance hungry.  They'd drive 55-60 miles just to go for a square dance.  They'd follow you all around, " Bill said
    "I reorganized the band.  We were the Rhythm Rascals, Russ Boyd played sax, and his brother-in-law Bob Crawford played trumpet.  Lloyd changed to the fiddle and I switched to the drums," he said.
    "Max Graber from Bradner played rhythm guitar,  Minnie Rainey from Arcadia was on the piano," he said.  "That's the band that really made us.  We played every place there was on opening."
    "That meant the old Eagles on Sough Main, the Sportsmen's above Fruth Hardware, the UAW Hall in the old Foster Building (Municipal Building) and the Moose Hall in the Alcott Building (Park and Shop Lot)
    "We played there the night it burned.  We'd just left.  My speakers were still hanging up," Bill said.
    They played at the Tiffin Eagles.
    "They had a ballroom that would hold 15 sets times 8," Bill said.  "We were there for 22 straight Saturday nights..  They were always full.  People came early.  We played there three straight New Year's Eves."
    They played at Meadowbrook, the Pemberville Legion, Rainbow Gardens and Whiteman's Grove in Fremont.
    "For one week we played at Lake St. Mary's with Victor Borge and Peewee Hunt.  We were the Square dance band," Bill said. "Peewee Hunt was the round dance band and Victor Borge was the comedian."
    "We played the Fourth of July street dance in Woodville.  Dick Downs (VFW Champion band) got a kick out of it.  My bass player was sick so I got Dick to play string base," Bill said. "He said 'I wished I'd have known this a long time ago.  I'd have been playing this for years."
    Bill turned the Rhythem Rascals over to Russ Boyd in 1978, but still runs into folks who remember his bands.
    "in fact, I saw one yesterday,"  He said,  "Man oh man, those were the good old days,'  you know that was a long time ago, but it was fun.  You just couldn't wait to get set up and start playing."  he said.
    "When you hollered, 'Square dance, fill "em up!'  you'd see those people get up and dance.  I can still remember the fun I had doing that," he said.